A Guide to Polish Bootleg Star Wars Figures!
Since the very day I started presenting the Polish Star Wars figures on Starwarsy, I have stressed on numerous occasions the fact that there's an infinite number of their variations. From a certain point of view - as Ben said - I was right. The multitude of colour versions, manufactured over the past several years, is truly mind-blowing. For instance, let us take a look at several versions of the immovable Nien Nunb figure:
These are but a few specimens I was able to get my hands on. There are collectors who own twice as many and, as far as I can recall, each figure looked differently. Therefore, I believe that any attempts at classifying the figures based on the way they were painted or the colour of the material used, are likely to fail. As far as the original Kenner collection is concerned, listing different variations based on colour is not without sense, because the result would be two or three variants (e.g. Luke Skywalker with yellow or brown hair). However, one would probably need a separate category for each and every Polish figure. And besides - segregation based on colour is not politically correct ;-).
After we reject this "racist" system of classification, the situation becomes clearer. We may attempt to list the full collection of old Polish bootleg figures and arrive at a fixed number of variations in each category. Our main criterion shall be the manufacturer, even if particular details are unknown. Common characteristics of the figures will hint at their factory of origin.
Let's start with numbers and leave the details for later. There were 60 Polish figures altogether. They appeared in 7 different series, although foreign collectors quote only 4. The difference stems from the fact that some individual figures are included as part of larger series, because of similarities between certain elements. Speaking as an eye-witness, who created his first collection when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I believe this to be inadequate.
We can distinguish the following categories:
1. MOVABLE CHEWBACCA - 1 figure;
2. THE EARLIEST SERIES - 4 figures;
3. MOVABLE RUBBER FIGURES FROM GDANSK - 20 figures;
4. THE "DELUXE" SERIES FROM LODZ - 4 figures;
5. SNOWTROOPER - 1 figure;
6. IMMOVABLE RUBBER AND PLASTIC FIGURES - 27 figures + 1 Stormtrooper;
7. IMMOVABLE SOFT FIGURES IN "CAPES" - 2 figures.
And now we shall move on to detailed descriptions of each category.
1. MOVABLE CHEWBACCA
The figure came equipped with a crossbow.
The Figure from the Planet of the Apes ;-)
This is probably the first Polish action figure. I'm not even sure, if the manufacturer had any idea that this is a character from Star Wars. The sellers certainly didn't. The figure was labelled as "The Figure from the Planet of the Apes." I saw it with my own eyes.
The manufacturer remains unknown; the figure was available in stores during the early 80s. It was made of hard, good quality plastic. The limbs are fixed in a way similar to the original - they do not fall off and they move just like they should.
The only thing I can be sure of, is the fact that this figure had been sold in cities near the sea. It never appeared in Poznan; as far as the other cities are concerned, I must confess I don't know. So, if there's anyone with information on this issue, please let me know.
Chewbacca is the only figure in this category.
2. THE EARLIEST SERIES
These excellent figures (when taking into account local conditions) appeared on the Polish market quite early, certainly before 1985. It is quite possible that they had been available even before "The Empire Strikes Back" appeared in the cinemas. If this is true, we are talking about very early 1980s.
This category consists of:
Obi Wan Kenobi in a cape (the capes of the figures I scaned are unfortunately lost)
Solo with a blaster (again, the accessories are missing and unfortunately I could not find them)
Organa Leia Organa in a cape.
Raider in a cape and with a Gaffi stick (!). In the other version, the Tusken figure was painted yellow..
All of these figures were made of good quality, hard material - hands and legs were made of hard rubber and the chest piece - even harder plastic. They all had movable limbs and heads. Their quality, when compared to the original, is slightly lower; however, they top everything that has ever been produced in Poland. They were packed into bags, which were bound at the top. The inscription read "Gwiezdne wojny" (Star Wars); there were images of space and spaceships which did not resemble any Star Wars craft.
Many collectors include Chewbacca into this category; I am convinced however that a different manufacturer is responsible for Chewie. Only one question remains: who?
This category includes as many as 20 different figures, all of them manufactured in Gdansk. They were certainly available in stores in 1985; some of them might have been available earlier. This is the complete set in its oldest variant:
MOVABLE RUBBER FIGURES FROM GDANSK
What is most characteristic about the figures from Gdansk, is that twenty chest pieces were matched with only three different kinds of limbs. While the limbs of Kenner figures are never the same - each figure represents a whole, individual product - 80% of the Polish figures were equipped with limbs which originally belonged to the Biker Scout. Several figures had TIE Pilot's hands and legs, but in Leia's case - also the shoulders and legs were borrowed from the ATAT Driver.
|From the left: the original Biker Scout, the "Polish" Biker Scout, and three sample figures with this space weirdo's limbs.
Amusingly (and interestingly) enough, the "Polish" TIE-Fighter Pilot's hands and legs were taken from the Scout figure, although he could very well have his own.
|From the left: the original TIE-Fighter Pilot, the "Polish" Pilot with Scout's limbs, and three sample figures with the pilot's hands and legs.
These figures were largely popular. They appeared in several "waves"; their first "generation" is especially prized by collectors and experts.
|And while foreign collectors point out that there are three generations of these figures, we're only going to divide them into two, because - truth be told - the number of "waves" in which these figures appeared on the market is impossible to account for. They appeared throughout the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps even slightly into the 21st century. They were reportedly seen in one of the modern supermarkets, in a basket with other rubber toys sold
The union of shoulders - the original Driver and Polish Leia.
The differences between the later generations however are of little importance. Mostly, these were merely changes in colour, which have no influence on both the value and quality of the figure.
There exists, however, a clear borderline which allows us to separate the earliest figures from their younger counterparts. It is also a characteristic, which has a decisive influence on the classification within the Gdansk series.
Back in the days when the first figures were made, the manufacturer used cone-shaped "joints" to connect the limbs to the torso. The effect was that during play, arms and legs would very often fall off, which is why they've decided to replace the cone with a ball-shaped element.
|First generation figure
|| Comparison: cone and ball
It is thanks to the shape of these elements, which connect the limbs to the torso, that we can tell whether these figures belong to the earlier - extremely valuable - or to the later generation. Below is the full collection of second (or later) generation figures from Gdansk :
As you can see, new colours appeared - e.g. 4-LOM was painted gold, Death Star Gunner became black and Weequay was given a very tasteful red "sweater".
What is important is that some of the figures had exchanged arms from time to time. For instance, Death Star Gunner appeared with both Scout's and Pilot's limbs. However, similar variations were also found within the first generation of figures, so it appears to be an aspect characteristic of the whole Gdansk series, not just its fragment.
Initially, the figures were manufactured by the "Elektrospoldzielnia" company.
| The name of the company is present on the back of the blister
in a form of a stamp. At one point however, the matrices were sold to a different company, which carried forth the production. This probably took place in the late 1980s. It is possible that the matrix used for manufacturing the figure named "Barada" was lost during that time. This figure never appeared again in a version different than the "first generation", making it the most unique Gdansk figure and certainly the hardest to find. Probably even during the period of Elektrospoldzielnia's greatness it wasn't very popular with the buyers. One must truly be well oriented in the lore of the Saga, to be able to link this bulldog to Star Wars.
The figures from Gdansk were sometimes sold individually, but mostly they were packed into so-called "blisters". This is what they looked like:
|Cards like these were also found in a blue version.
||Packs containing weapons sold separately were fixed to cards like this one.
||Similar blisters appeared in the 1990s.
The Gdansk series consists of the following figures: 1.Darth
Commander; 7. AtSt
Star Gunner; 9.Biker
Skywalker Pilot; 11.Han
Solo Hoth; 12.Lando
Rebel Trooper; 14.Leia;
Fghter Pilot; 20.Barada.
4.THE "DELUXE" SERIES FROM LODZ
The fact that foreign collectors often refer to these as the DELUXE figures must mean they rather like them. And no wonder - these figures were made of good quality material, nicely move their hands and legs, and generally look quite decent. Of course, their quality is still inferior when compared with the original figures from Kenner, but they can easily compete with Hungarian or Brazilian bootleg figures. Not to mention the Mexican ones.
There were four figures in this category:
These figures came with accessories, such as a snake, Yoda's belt or pig guard's axe. They also came in many different colours. The ATAT Driver is the most popular figure in this category, while Ree-Yees is the rarest.
The toys were manufactured in Lodz, by the "Wytworczosc Rozna" manufacturing company. They were sold during the second half of the 1980s. They were packed into bags with a small card, which had the name of the company and the price printed on it.
There also exists a version of this Stormtrooper made of red plastic, which had similar white blobs.
||The Snowtrooper figure is very often (mistakenly) catalogued as part of the DELUXE series. Packed into a well-crafted Polish version of the original blister (only without the original colours), this Snowtrooper was manufactured by a totally different company.
Produced from hard material, the figure itself is rather well-made. Untypical colours may give an impression that the white paint was not entirely removed from the figure; this is however not the case. To this day, I have seen three such figures, and they all look the same.
was the only figure manufactured by this company.
6.IMMOVABLE RUBBER AND PLASTIC FIGURES
This is the largest series of bootleg figures - it consists of as much as twenty-seven figures:
Each figure from this series was manufactured using one compact piece of rubber or plastic - there were no movable parts. Everything seems to suggest that we are dealing with illegal casts of original figures - inscriptions on the thighs are nearly an exact copy of the original figures (e.g."made in Hong Kong" or "L.F.L. 1980"). They are, however, slightly smaller, which is probably due to the structure of the material the limbs were made of. Seventeen out of twenty-seven figures have their own limbs which are an exact copy of the original product.
From the left: a Polish figure made of soft rubber, the original version by Kenner, and a Polish bootleg made of hard plastic. The figures have "original" arms and legs.
Eight figures were given Scout's arms and legs. This is why I believe them to be copies of the movable figures from Gdansk - especially since there are no inscriptions on them. The last two figures - Nien Nunb and Prune Face - were given Pilot's arms and legs; yet another characteristic which makes them similar to the Gdansk series.
|From the left: Kenner's Luke Skywalker Pilot, a Polish figure from Gdansk with Scout's limbs, and an immovable figure, also with Scout elements.
These figures were sold without wrappings and any sort of accessories or weaponry. While being the cheapest bootleg figures ever, they were also available in the whole country. Their manufacturer remains unknown; we do not even know which city they came from. Some people suggest they might have made their way from a nearby country; reportedly, these figures were seen in Hungary and East Germany. This does not seem right. Someone must have sold a few Polish bootlegged figures abroad, hence all this excitement.
Among the figures which are easiest to find, are silver Stormtroopers, Zuckuss, Vader and Chewbacca. Ewoks are definitely the hardest to get, especially Logray. The AT-ST Driver, Boba Fett, Scout, Luke and Leia are also quite rare.
The "IMMOVABLE" series consists of the following figures: 1.Luke
Skywalker Wieśniak; 2.Leia;
Obi One Kenobi; 7.Han
Star Gunner; 19. Hoth
Rebel Soldier; 20.Lando
||The black Stormtrooper is an interesting variant. Not only does it appear that Poles had foreseen the appearance of Dark Troopers, but also the figure seems to differ from the silver version in anatomical characteristics, as well as colour. This means it must have been produced through a different matrix and therefore should possibly be ascribed to a different and separate series.
There's also a white version which has similar characteristics. All possible variations of the immovable Stormtrooper can be viewed here:
7.IMMOVABLE SOFT FIGURES IN "CAPES"
These figures appeared all of the sudden from the depths of oblivion during the last few years. I have never seen them before, but there's little doubt to their age. It's all in the smell, which brings to one's mind images of a damp basement. The figures are made of soft rubber and have capes with (mostly) accurate descriptions. The cape on Chewbacca states the correct name, but the Stormtrooper's cape reads "Obi-Wan Kenobi". Why is that so? One cannot be sure. Perhaps one day we'll know, but for now all we can do is stare at the descriptions with puzzlement. The inscriptions on the capes were printed in different colours.
As you can see, Chewbacca and Stormtrooper are part of this series.
And so ends the review of old Polish bootleg figures. What do we need to remember?
There are 60 different figures in total, which can be ascribed to 7 different series. Figures from the earliest series, manufactured during the early 1980s, are also of the highest quality - Ben, Leia, Solo, Tusken, Chewbacca and the DELUXE series from the second half of the 80s. The most popular figures were manufactured in Gdansk. There were 20 such figures and one feature they shared was that they very often had Scout's limbs. They also appeared throughout several years; hence we speak of several generations. The first generation is unique; it can be identified by the round element, which connects the limbs to the chest.
There is also a series of 27+1 immovable figures and a single Snowtrooper of good quality, which was placed in an untypical blister. Also, we cannot forget the mysterious "soft" figures, which were uncovered only recently.
Why should you collect old Polish bootlegs? Mainly, because there is magic locked inside them; the magic of an era past and gone. Today, similar atrocities would certainly be out of place. We should honour the past and old fans, for whom their figures were the only means of cultivating their hobby. And besides, having a small army of Polish bootleg figures can give you an excellent starting position for negotiations with other collectors, who - in their quest to quench their thirst for exotic things - will be willing to fulfil many of your wildest dreams
Translation: Łukasz "Miagi" Młotkowski.